Here’s my Telegraph piece on the NATO summit in Warsaw. Thus:
Poland’s President Duda wonders what President Obama will say to him privately about Poland’s constitutional wranglings. President Obama has his mind on yet more ghastly shootings back home. France’s President Hollande eyes his horrible polling numbers and wonders whether Cristiano Ronaldo will wreck his chance to bask in the glow of French football glory. Angela Merkel broods on Deutsche Bank and German swimming pools.
World leaders like sharing their personal political sorrows, while also enjoying nervous glee when one of their number plummets like Phaeton from a clear blue sky. This time round Nato leaders will be wondering how David Cameron managed to turn an outstanding national election victory in May 2015 into an outstanding referendum calamity in June 2016. They’ll be keen to commiserate with him, but even more keen to get from him a sense of what is going on in the UK, up to and including whether the UK itself is falling to bits. Do either of the two ladies they’ve never heard of who are now battling to become the next Prime Minister have the foggiest idea about European and wider strategic issues?
Good question. We’ll soon find out. Another question. What’s ‘defence’ defending against these days?
Ukraine is likely to be getting active Nato technical support in “hybrid warfare, explosive devices, and strategic communications”. But the main focus of Nato leaders will be supporting their own colleagues closest to Russia. Estonia’s capital Tallinn is a mere 230 miles from St Petersburg. The summit will see significant increases in Nato military assets deployed to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland itself in what Nato Secretary General Stoltenberg is calling the “biggest reinforcement of Nato’s collective defense since the Cold War.”
Will these conventional military defence moves make a difference? Direct Russian military intervention in a NATO member country surely looks a step too far, even for an emboldened Putin. But what if President Putin continues to pursue unconventional “asymmetric warfare” schemes aimed at subtly destabilising Nato allies and wearing away at Nato’s will to resist? What exactly are countries defending themselves against these days anyway?
A direct missile strike against key assets is one thing. But, perhaps, scarcely less drastic damage might be done by an invisible cyber attallck that destroys the electronic systems running those assets. How to distinguish between attacks from shady hackers and deliberate state-sponsored e-aggression? If you can distinguish them, how to respond effectively and proportionately? What deterrence plans can help stop things getting to this point?
Above all, what does “cyber warfare” mean for Nato’s Article 5 that establishes the key principle of collective self-defence against “armed attack”? No easy answers. This summit will push forward new important thinking in this area
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President Obama and other non-EU Nato leaders will be pressing their EU leader colleagues for a convincing private steer on what all this Brexit confusion portends for the alliance.
There are two basic options. A renewed divisive push towards some sort of footling “EU army” led by Field Marshall Juncker with his cosmic friends. Or European capitals treat Brexit as a loud wake-up call to stop messing around and instead re-focus on today’s real threats and what has served us well in mutual security for decades. Namely, robust transatlantic military partnership in the Nato framework, ideally with the United Kingdom (a) still around and (b) playing a strong role. Perhaps also (c) led by a new Iron Lady?
What about Russia?
Russia can’t accept anything that leaves the United States as a de facto leader, but it also offers no credible model of modern governance for anyone else. As Moscow burns through its hard-won financial reserves grappling with the oil price fall and Western sanctions, it faces a Nato alliance showing new-found determination to re-invest in sharp-end defence spending and associated troop deployments.
Thus the Warsaw Summit’s message to President Putin: “If you want to play tough, we Nato folks can play tough too. We’re not as confused and divided as we look! Therefore what? Why not get back to all that dull dialogue?”
Moscow won’t like that Nato message, may not believe it, and is likely to carry on probing and provoking as Washington and London come to terms with new leaders. But even President Putin may start to wonder whether such expensive games are really achieving anything worthwhile.
As usual it’s about Negotiation. That in turn is all about what each side thinks is at stake, and what it is prepared to do to advance its core Needs. In any negotiation there are objective facts that can be discussed. Much harder to articulate and manage are the subjective fears and hopes.
The Russians claim to see NATO as getting ever-more explicitly threatening:
Look! They’re moving their soldiers right up to our borders. They want to bring in Ukraine and even Georgia. That’s where Stalin was born! It’s ours! We must defend ourselves!
NATO (here as an aggregation of all sorts of nuanced points of view) similarly has concerns:
Look! The Russians are pushing the borders of military provocation in the Baltic Sea! And they’ve changed European borders by force by annexing Crimea. We must defend ourselves!
Once this sort of thing starts it’s hard to stop and get back to dull old pragmatic dialogue again. See also Brexit?